Imagining the Law and the Constitution of Societal Order in Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker’s 1965 'Crime and the Great Society' Address
12 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2009
Date Written: April 3, 2009
Legal scholar and theorist James Boyd White has challenged both lawyers and rhetoricians to imagine the law as a rhetorical and literary process (“Imagining the Law” from the 1997 anthology, The Rhetoric of Law). White contends that members of the legal profession should see law as an activity of speech and imagination that occurs in a social world (“Imagining the Law,” p. 35). He encourages members of the legal profession to look at law in its social context; in other words, instead of thinking of law as a social machine or technical system of regulations and applying its rules in a mechanical way, lawyers should engage the legal profession as an interaction of authoritative texts and as a process of legal thought and argument (“Imagining the Law,” p. 55). By asking members of the legal professional to see law as rhetoric, White encourages them to recognize the socially constitutive nature of language, which runs contrary to a perspective of law as machine or, rather, the law as only a system of rules and regulations.
My paper will extend White’s notion of imagining law as rhetorical and literary process. White has analyzed specific court cases as instances of lawyers and judges imagining the law in particular ways. In addition, scholars, particularly from communication and rhetoric, have taken inspiration from his ideas and applied them to the rhetoric of the courtroom (e.g., court testimony, judicial opinions, and narrative in legal discourse). However, I intend to take White’s concept of imagining the law and to apply it to a public address concerning constitutionality and the legal system (as opposed to analyzing transcripts from court cases). The specific case for my paper, the “Crime and the Great Society” (1965) speech from former Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker, reflects Parker’s imagining of the law and of constitutional rights – particularly the rights of the accused. (Based on my research, the speech itself represents an artifact no one has seriously studied.) My paper will show how his speech reflects a vision for the City of Los Angeles; Parker, himself, imagines the law by referencing several authoritative texts and literary works to advance his agenda for societal order in Los Angeles. In the end, Parker asks his audience, the city’s leaders and citizens, to share his vision and his imagination, and, moreover, he constitutes a societal order through his use of language. Such imaginings, however, can adversely affect the very society a rhetorician intends to strengthen if the rhetorician’s words result in negative consequences for citizens’ constitutional rights.
Keywords: rhetoric, contemporary history, law, California, Los Angeles Police Department, legal imagination, constitutional rights, public address
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation